Measuring Progress

Authors: UN Environment

Measuring-progress_cover_large.jpg This report outlines fi ndings from a UNEP study that, with support from the Government of Switzerland, has catalogued and analyzed existing “Global Environmental Goals” contained in the international agreements and conventions. It asks the fundamental question as to why the aims and goals of these policy instruments have often fallen far short of their original ambition and intentions. One possible reason is that many of the goals are simply not specifi c enough; the few goals that are specifi c and measurable appear to have a much better record of success. These include goals to phase out lead in gasoline, ozone depleting substances (ODS) and certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs), specifi c Millennium Development Goal targets calling to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and targets to increase the number and extent of protected areas. Indeed, even when measurable targets have been set but not actually met, they have usually led to positive change and often to signifi cant change. The vast majority of goals, however, are found to be “aspirational” in nature. They lack specifi c targets, which generate obvious diffi culties in measuring progress towards them. In addition, many aspirational goals are not supported by adequate data that can be used to measure progress, global freshwater quality being one stark example.

It is clear that if agreements and conventions are to achieve their intended purpose, the international community needs to consider specifi c and measurable goals when designing such treaties, while organizing the required data gathering and putting in place proper tracking systems from the outset.

A set of “Sustainable Development Goals”, as proposed by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Sustainability, could be an excellent opportunity and starting point to improve this situation while representing another positive outcome from Rio+20, two decades after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and four decades after the Stockholm Conference.